Product Reviews

LinkScanner Pro Keeps Your Computer Safe

Track computer exploits and learn how they work through LinkScanner Pro and the Exploit Prevention Labs Web site.

LinkScanner Pro 2.6.5
Installation 20%
Features 20%
Ease of Use 20%
Administration 20%
Documentation 20%
Overall Rating:

1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

I have a firewall on my network, and my IP address is a non-routable Class C address that's handed out by my DHCP server. The Windows Firewall is also turned on. I use an e-mail filter on my POP3 server and Outlook 2007 scans for junk and malicious e-mail. I have ongoing subscriptions to Norton AntiVirus, and my virus definitions are always up-to-date.

In other words, I do everything a reasonable person would do in order to keep their systems and network clean. However, I still get adware, unwanted cookies, bogus e-mails and even an occasional virus. Part of this occurs because of the large number of Web pages I scan through on a regular basis. Another part comes from the variety of applications that I use and review; many of these applications need access to the network and even the Internet to work properly.

But since I've been running Exploit Prevention Labs' LinkScanner Pro, I'm now fully aware of every process that's actively sending and receiving data across the network, sites and exploits blocked, and what sites might be dangerous. I'm warned of the hazards of visiting various Web pages, and why they might be hazardous.

The LinkScanner Pro console is a marvel of information packed into a small space. Through separate tabs at the top of the form, I can completely control how and where my computer goes once it leaves the safe confines of its physical case. Finding different types of information, as well as configuring the software, can be done with the click of a tab.

Figure 1
[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. LinkScanner Pro's console displays all running processes and highlights those that are actively transferring data.

Working with LinkScanner Pro
One of the product's key features enables you to scan a site ahead of time to determine if it's safe, and immediately advance a browser to that page if there's no problem. If there is a potential or real problem, it will not automatically go to the page, but it will tell you what the issue is so that you can make the determination yourself. You can do this from the LinkScanner Pro console, or through integration with your Web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera are supported). Even if you don't use this feature, LinkScanner Pro will slide up an unobtrusive window if it detects an issue with a Web page or other questionable contact with your PC, telling you why you should be wary.

The feature I enjoyed most was the tab that displayed all running processes and highlighted them whenever they sent or received data across the network. Even though I do technical work with computers, I don't know what some of the processes are that Microsoft displays in the Task Manager. It seems entirely possible to slip one process among many that's stealing data or doing unauthorized communication with the Internet.

This running process tab is great for looking at processes that communicate with the network, including when they are doing so and how many bytes they are sending and receiving. It's given me an excuse to look up some of the processes that are running to determine if they're really supposed to be on my system, and what I should do about them if they're not. The LinkScanner Pro software doesn't provide all of that information, but it does give enough for me to be careful in my research.

Another tab shows exploits prevented and sites blocked. The "exploits prevented" information includes the type of exploit, where it came from, the originating IP address and the port it came in on. If you need further explanation of what those potential exploits are, simply click on an exploit's name and it will provide you with a brief description of that issue. Need more? You also have a link to a more detailed explanation from the company Web site.

Building a Community
As you might imagine, collecting information on exploits from Web sites and other sources is a long, complex and never-ending job. Exploit Prevention Labs attempts to leverage the resources of its user community to assist with this process. As a part of the product installation, users are invited to join the Community Intelligence Network, a way of sending information on exploits and sites that host exploits to a centralized database, accessible to anyone.

The company also provides several resources on its Web site for understanding new exploit techniques and what to do about them. Exploit Prevention Labs CTO Roger Thompson pens a blog that provides a quick and easy way to understand and deal with various exploits. And the company also publishes monthly assessments on new exploits and how they work. Further, the Knowledge Base of exploits makes for fascinating reading.

LinkScanner Pro is better suited for a more technical audience, rather than for the average business PC user. It's difficult for someone who doesn't pay a lot of attention to what happens on their computer to understand what an "Invisible IFrame launcher" is, for example, which is one of the potential exploits cited on my list. The sort of information provided by LinkScanner Pro and Exploit Prevention Labs is more meaningful to someone who takes an interest in what's happening on their computer and why.

But even people who use computers only because they have a job to do will also benefit from LinkScanner Pro-not because of the information it provides, but because of the warnings and blocking of exploits. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to take advantage of these features without necessarily understanding what they mean.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.


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